Master Your Message Blog

The Riveting Opening – a Powerful Way to Start Your Presentation

Imagine an opening statement that silences the room and locks every eye on you, the presenter. The audience is left figuratively “hanging,” staring at you, waiting for the next word.That’s the “riveting opening” – my favorite because it can be so powerful.It’s important to understand the role of opening lines.

1. They set the tone for the talk or session2. They communicate some of your personality3. They allow the audience to subconsciously judge you … and judge you they will!

“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” the best-selling book by Malcolm Gladwell, is all about this last point. We humans judge situations, people, environments and virtually everything we come in contact with subconsciously all the time – in under 3 seconds and usually, much faster. We don’t know we’re doing it, but we are. So, as a presenter, it’s really important to set up a desirable environment right from the very start.

That’s why telling a joke or relating a story that has little to do with the subject at hand is not a good idea. It confuses the audience and can adversely affect the way they relate to you. The best speakers walk onto the stage “in character” and begin. Under this scenario, the first words they utter are often sent directly to the subconscious of the audience and may be remembered long after the event.

It’s not just the words, but your demeanor, the way you’re dressed, the pacing: Everything you do in the first few seconds has a huge effect on what impression the audience forms of you … and it can last through the entire talk, and likely beyond.

Now, let’s get back to the riveting opening.

The riveting opening statement typically comes from the conclusion – the main theme, or central point that you’re making. Let’s say my presentation’s objective was to get a committee to purchase a new color laser printer. I had done my research and come to the conclusion that the new SX90 was hands down the most efficient printer on the market.

My opening line might be: “One printer on the market … one printer alone … will make our organization more efficient and effective than we have been in over 15 years.” You could even tag this line with a question rhetorical question: “Would you like to know what that printer is?”

This set-up goes right to the heart of the matter, wastes no time (very important in business presentations) and “book-ends” the presentation, as well. By “book-ending,” I mean that we could also end the presentation with a very similar summary line: “So, I know you’ll agree that the SX90 will make us more efficient and effective than we’ve been in over 15 years. I just need your signature …”

The riveting opening takes a fact or a conclusion that relates to your main theme and states it succinctly. It is usually a statement orfact that the audience may not be aware of or, if they are, said in a dramatic manner. Every word in that statement is important.

If there’s any one line that you want to memorize as a presenter, it’s the riveting statement. You want to make sure you get it right, with the proper intonation and without stumbling around. In fact, whenever I do a speech or presentation, I always memorize the opening line or paragraph, no matter what kind of opening I have planned.

Just as important – I also make sure I’ve rehearsed my final line of the presentation … when I “ask for the order.” Those are the two most important parts of any presentation.

You’ll find a re-print of this article in the free online publication, SOLD magazine, on page 42.

Comments for this Post

  • Craig Hadden June 16, 2012, 7:43 am

    Thanks Peter – I think the tip about bookending is a great idea. So, starting with a line about a choice of printer and then circling back to the same theme would give the message a lot of power.

    I also think telling a short, relevant story can be a very effective way to hook your audience. For instance, Patricia Fripp recommends that an experienced staff member talking to newer staff could begin “I’ll never forget the first time I…” (For that and 4 other examples, see )

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking articles on your blog. Keep up the good work!

    • Peter Temple June 18, 2012, 11:23 am

      Great comment! Know Patricia well.

      Yes, stories are a very powerful tool – certainly the most powerful in terms of being memorable, and teaching. People remember stories above all else.

      Leading with a story, in my humble opinion, depends very much on the situation. In a persuasive business presentation, I recommend starting with the problem – the reason you’re there. Here’s my article to that effect.

      So, if your story serves to illustrate the problem, yes, I couldn’t agree more … another powerful way to start with impact.


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